Thursday 23 November 2017

Gunners' second string fire blanks but earn place in knock-out stages

Arsenal 0 Red Star 0

Red Star Belgrade’s Damien Le Tallec clears off the line from Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere. Photo: REUTERS/David Klein
Red Star Belgrade’s Damien Le Tallec clears off the line from Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere. Photo: REUTERS/David Klein

Jeremy Wilson

Arsenal's unerring consistency in qualifying for the Champions League might have been abruptly broken earlier this year but they do at least remain utterly reliable in navigating through the group phase of European competition.

This rather drab and forgettable goalless draw confirmed, for the 15th straight season, that their participation in Europe will extend beyond Christmas.

It was the one point of interest in from a match in which Arsenal struggled badly to break down a dogged but limited Red Star Belgrade team.

Boos rang out on the final whistle, with the whole mood rather challenging Arsene Wenger's rather odd declaration in his pre-match programme notes that this is the most focused Arsenal squad in his entire two decades at the club.

The importance of Sunday's visit to the Etihad was strikingly evident in Wenger's team selection, with all 11 of the likely starters against Manchester City rested. Only goalkeeper Petr Cech was even among the substitutes.

Three players who will be desperate for regular first-team football before next summer's World Cup started up front in Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere.

Arsenal's Matthew Macey saves a shot from Red Star Belgrade's Vujadin Savic. Photo: REUTERS/David Klein
Arsenal's Matthew Macey saves a shot from Red Star Belgrade's Vujadin Savic. Photo: REUTERS/David Klein

Arsenal began shakily, with goalkeeper Matt Macey botching an attempted clearance following Mohamed Elneny's pass-back only to be rescued by Rob Holding's tackle on Richmond Boakye.

Wenger's side threatened only sporadically during a first half, notably when Ainsley Maitland-Niles surged forward and crossed for Giroud, whose shot was saved by goalkeeper Milan Borjan's legs.

Slavoljub Srnic then drifted into space just outside Arsenal's penalty area and forced Macey to palm a powerful shot over.

He then went even closer following the resulting corner with a looping header that required acrobatics from Macey to deliver a finger-tipped save on to the inside of his crossbar.

Red Star's Nemanja Radonjic gets to the ball ahead of Theo Walcott. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Red Star's Nemanja Radonjic gets to the ball ahead of Theo Walcott. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Arsenal felt that Wilshere should have had a penalty after the break when he was upended by Vujadin Savic following a slick exchange of passes with Giroud.

Wilshere's growing influence was more apparent moments later when he surged towards Red Star's goal and lofted his attempted finish beyond Borjan, only for Damien Le Tallec to scramble back and clear off the goal-line.

Walcott then did have the chance to finally turn Arsenal's dominance into a goal but, having been released by Elneny, he missed the ball completely.

The scoreline was ultimately an accurate reflection of a game devoid of quality. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud shoots at goal. Photo: REUTERS/David Klein
Arsenal's Olivier Giroud shoots at goal. Photo: REUTERS/David Klein
Red Star Belgrade's Mitchell Donald, Marko Gobeljic and team mates celebrate after the match. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Red Star Belgrade's Mitchell Donald, Marko Gobeljic and team mates celebrate after the match. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Telegraph.co.uk

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